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Mental Health for College Students

Taylor Nichols

Written By: Taylor Nichols

Published: 8/16/2022

Students struggling with mental health issues often feel isolated. However, mental health issues are among the most common challenges college students face.

Mental health is especially important for college students. Young adults are at a higher risk for mental illness, and many of the factors that contribute to mental health problems are common aspects of the college lifestyle. Not getting enough sleep, drinking too much coffee, stress, and poor diet can all have a big impact on mental health.

Most schools offer mental health services, but many students still don't get the help they need. While today's college students are more likely to talk about mental health than previous generations, only one-third of young adults who suffer from anxiety or depression seek treatment.

This guide is meant to act as a resource for students who are navigating mental health challenges. It is not all-encompassing, but it touches on common mental health issues that college students face and offers some tips and resources to address them.

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, considering self-harm, or having suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Line for free, immediate care. You'll be connected with a trained professional in your area who can direct you to crisis services and mental health resources.

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How Many College Students Struggle with Mental Health?

According to college mental health nonprofit Active Minds, 39% of university students have a mental health issue while in college, and 75% of mental health issues begin by age 24. College students experience a wide range of mental health problems that can be triggered or made worse by different aspects of the college experience, like the added stress of an intensive course load or adapting to a new social environment.

What Are the Most Common Mental Health Problems College Students Face?

Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health issues for college students. The National College Health Assessment reports that 50% of students have been diagnosed with one or both of these conditions. However, many students suffering from mental illness or mental health conditions do not receive treatment, and may go undiagnosed.

Some people also experience co-occurring mental health problems, meaning they may struggle with more than one psychiatric condition. The phrase “dual diagnosis” is used as shorthand for those who have substance use disorder, in addition to another mental illness.

Top Seven Mental Health Issues for College Students
Mental Illness or Disorder College Students Diagnosed
Anxiety disorders 27%
Depression 22%
ADD/ADHD 10%
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Acute Stress Disorder, or another trauma- or stressor- related condition 6%
Insomnia 5%
Eating Disorders 5%
Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Conditions 5%

Source: National College Health Assessment, Fall 2021

College Mental Health Statistics

Young adults are at the highest risk for mental health issues. Data from the National Institute of Mental Health shows mental illness is most common among adults ages 18-25, with 31% experiencing a mental illness. This group is also the least likely to get treatment.

Data also shows most mental illnesses appear before age 25. A 2021 study found that Anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, stress disorders, and addiction all typically onset before the age of 20. Schizophrenia, personality disorders, depression, and other mood disorders have an average age of onset of 20.5 years. For many people, that means if they're going to experience a mental illness, it will appear either before or during the typical college years.

Risk factors for mental illness are part of the college lifestyle. Many college students feel the negative impacts of added stress and a hectic schedule on their body and mind. While college itself doesn't cause mental health problems, factors like losing sleep, drinking too much coffee, and eating junk food can all compound to increase the likelihood of mental health problems. Common risk factors for college students include stress, drug and alcohol use, poor diet, a lack of sleep, stressful environments or transitions, and traumatic events such as sexual assault.

Mental health issues can make it harder to do well in school. According to the National College Health Assessment, anxiety and depression are some of the biggest factors causing students to struggle in college. More than half (53%) of college students said anxiety, depression, or both caused their grades to slip in the last year.

Common Mental Health Issues Affecting College Students

Anxiety

Anxiety is the most common mental health issue for college students. The American College Health Association found that 27% of college students have been diagnosed with some type of anxiety. Common diagnoses include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety, and Panic Disorder, all of which can surface during early adulthood.

What Causes Anxiety in College Students?

For many students, the transition into college is an especially dangerous time for developing or intensifying anxiety disorders. The added stress of being in a new place away from home, trying to make friends or fit in, the pressure to do well in school, and the new responsibilities of young adulthood can all add up. Lifestyle habits like not getting enough sleep or exercise and drinking too much coffee – all very common in college – can also trigger anxiety or make symptoms worse.

Headshot of Christine Bowen

Christine Bowen

Naturopathic Doctor and Chief Medical Officer at Inside Health Institute

Alcohol and caffeine can compound problems that people with anxiety and depression may already be experiencing and going without could give people a clearer idea of what is actually happening with their mood and energy, without these substances clouding the picture.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety?

The most common type of anxiety disorder is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). To be diagnosed with GAD, you must experience excessive, uncontrollable anxiety and worry that spans multiple topics and might not match with what's really going on. The worry must occur more often than not for at least six months, and people with GAD might have anxiety that easily transfers from topic to topic.

In addition to this, you must also display at least three of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling edgy or restless
  • Getting tired or fatigued easily
  • Feeling irritable
  • Muscle aches or soreness – anxiety can cause tension in the neck, jaw, chest, stomach, and other areas of the body
  • Having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, feeling restless at night, or not feeling well-rested

Other common anxiety disorders include panic disorder (characterized by panic attacks), phobias, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and separation anxiety disorder.

How to Manage Anxiety in College: Treatment and Coping Mechanisms

Whether you're experiencing anxiety due to a specific situation or suffer from an anxiety disorder, the first thing you should do is seek treatment from a licensed counselor. Talk therapy is one of the best resources available to learn how to manage anxiety.

Many therapists use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a type of therapy that focuses on replacing harmful thought patterns with different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to things that make us anxious. You might get homework to help you work on developing new coping skills to manage anxiety in CBT therapy.

Exposure therapy can also help those with anxiety disorders overcome their fears and get back to everyday activities without being overwhelmed by worry or panic.

Doctors and psychiatrists also may prescribe medications to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety. Common medications include anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines, selective seretonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other antidepressants, and beta-blockers.

Therapy is critical for people who suffer from any mental health issues because you can learn to understand yourself better and learn to reduce and manage symptoms. However, it can be hard to access mental health services, especially if they are not offered at your school or you don't have health insurance.

Scientific research shows that meditation, regular exercise, and other stress management techniques can alleviate anxiety symptoms and help contribute to a healthy mind. These strategies will be an important piece of recovery alongside therapy. You'll likely need to make lifestyle changes and practice coping strategies. Eventually, you can train yourself to have a better response to stressors and learn to manage your anxiety.

Hotlines and Online Anxiety Resources

Hotlines

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK

Mental Health America Crisis Text Line: Text "MHA" to 741-741 to connect with a trained counselor

Online Resources

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA): Offers educational information on different anxiety disorders and depression symptoms and treatment options, resources, coping mechanisms, tests to screen for anxiety and depression disorders, and help finding a therapist

Mental Health America: Provides a wide range of resources for people struggling with anxiety and other mental health issues. Resources include mental health screening tests for GAD and other disorders, articles and tools to help you cope with different aspects of anxiety, opportunities to connect with other people who have anxiety, treatment options, and help finding a healthcare provider

Wysa: An app providing support for people experiencing anxiety and depression available for free during the pandemic; Wysa also includes an option to talk with a therapist, with daily texting check-ins and four live sessions per month

Free mindfulness and meditation apps

The ADAA provides a list of tips for managing test anxiety

Depression

Depression is the second most common mental health condition for college students. According to the American College Health Association, 22% of students report being diagnosed with depression.

While most students do seek treatment, 25% who have depression have not worked with a mental health professional in the last year. Left untreated, depression can not only have serious effects on your overall health and quality of life, it can also be dangerous. There were 9,188 suicides of Americans aged 18 to 29 in 2020, according to CDC data, making it the third leading cause of death for that age group.

People can experience situational depression in response to a hard time in their life, or they can suffer from clinical depression that is not based on circumstances. Both types of depression are difficult to get through, but they are treatable.

What Causes Depression for College Students?

Going to college by itself does not cause depression, but many common aspects of the typical college experience can. Not getting enough sleep or exercise, eating an unhealthy diet, or using drugs and alcohol can negatively impact mood. Feeling homesick or getting used to a new place may also make students feel depressed. Certain medications, hormonal imbalances, stress, trauma, and genetics can also play a role in depression.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression?

Major Depressive Disorder, also known as major depression or clinical depression, is the most common depressive disorder. Students with major depression usually have a severe and persistent low mood or feelings of sadness or hopelessness that last at least two weeks. However, major depressive episodes often last much longer. Untreated, they can go on for months or years.

Depression is different for every person. Other potential symptoms include:

  • Sleeping too much or trouble sleeping
  • Overeating or loss of appetite and weight gain or loss
  • Difficulty concentrating or memory problems
  • Feeling tired
  • Apathy, or loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Moving slowly or seeming agitated
  • Low self-esteem, feeling bad about yourself, or feeling like a failure
  • Feeling indecisive
  • Thoughts of death, self-harm, or suicide

How Depression Affects College Students

College students who suffer from depression often have a harder time doing everyday activities, going to work, and maintaining relationships. It's also a common reason why students struggle in school — 22% report depression had a negative impact on their grades in the last year.

How to Deal with Depression in College: Treatment and Coping Mechanisms

Without treatment, major depressive episodes can turn into chronic depression. Luckily, depression is treatable through a combination of therapy, counseling, medication, and healthy lifestyle choices. There are many natural remedies thought to help balance mood as well, although students should talk with their doctor before starting new supplements or medications. With proper treatment, students who suffer from depression can learn to manage and reduce symptoms and help prevent another episode from happening.

The most common treatments for depression are talk therapy and antidepressants, and a combination of both has proven to be most effective. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can be highly effective in helping people understand their depression and learn to manage their symptoms.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a common method for treating depression and is considered to be highly effective. Other types of therapy for depression include interpersonal therapy (IPT), where you work on problems in personal relationships, and psychodynamic therapy, which focuses on resolving issues related to past experiences.

Antidepressants are also a common method of managing depression, but they can take two to four weeks to begin having an effect. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often the first choice for antidepressants. Other common antidepressants include serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs).

Other methods of treatment and symptom management can also dramatically improve your quality of life coupled with therapy and/or medication. Studies show that exercise, spending time outdoors, meditation, and diet can all have positive impacts on mood. There are also herbal supplements available that can help with depression, but you should always check with your doctor before starting a supplement.

Headshot of Christine Bowen

Christine Bowen

Naturopathic Doctor and Chief Medical Officer at Inside Health Institute

"Diet change is my most powerful tool for improving mood and energy naturally. Reducing or eliminating white foods such as sugar, white rice, white flour, and white potatoes as well as heavily processed foods is a great first step toward improving health outcomes."

Overall, the most important thing you can do is seek help from a mental health practitioner. They will listen to your concerns and help you find the best methods of treatment for you.

Hotlines and Crisis Support

Hotlines

  • Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK
  • Mental Health America Crisis Text Line: Text "MHA" to 741-741 to connect with a trained counselor
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Hotline: 1-800-662-HELP
  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance Crisis Hotline: 800-273-TALK, or text DBSA to 741-741

Online Resources

  • The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA): Offers educational information on different types of depression, symptoms and treatment options, resources, coping mechanisms, tests to screen for depression disorders, and help finding a therapist
  • Mental Health America: Provides a wide range of resources for people struggling with depression. Resources include mental health screening tests for depression, articles and tools to help you cope, treatment options, help finding a provider, DIY toolkits for managing depression, and help connecting with a provider
  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: Offers extensive resources for understanding depression, treatment options, crisis management, wellness tools, and help finding support groups and other support options
  • Wysa: An app providing support for people experiencing anxiety and depression available for free during the pandemic; Wysa also includes an option to talk with a therapist, with daily texting check-ins and four live sessions per month
  • GoodRx, Medicine Assistance Tool, NeedyMeds, and Together Rx Access all provide options for low-cost medications

Addiction and Substance Abuse

Drug and alcohol use are very common in college. The ACHA found that 63% of students reported drinking within the past month, and 23% reported using marijuana. While other substances are less frequently used, students are still at a high risk for substance abuse. 

Substance abuse occurs when someone uses a drug for recreational purposes or reasons other than its intended use. This can include prescription drugs, marijuana, and street drugs. Drinking is considered abuse when it has negative consequences or impacts someone's life. Both drug and alcohol abuse can cause serious health problems, lead to hospitalization and death, and are linked to other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

It can be hard to adjust to college and fit in, and college parties are a common way of meeting people and making friends, especially at schools that have fraternities and sororities. Students often feel a social pressure to drink or use drugs, or turn to substances to help them cope with stress. One of the biggest problems with the popular use of both drugs and alcohol in college is that it can lead to a higher risk of traumatic events such as sexual assault, violence, or car accidents from drinking and driving.

Headshot of Eileen Bowen

Eileen Bowen

LMHP and Director of Counseling at Inside Health Institute

Functional alcoholism often gets started in college and eventually it's going to be a problem. It snowballs, and how fast that snowball is moving is different for each person. Some snowballs just take off and produce an avalanche, and some are kind of slow, but they get to the same place

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse?

Because alcohol and drug use are so prevalent on college campuses, it can be difficult to tell when it goes from what might be seen as casual use to substance use disorder or addiction. Using drugs or alcohol may be a choice at first, but our brains can become chemically dependent on these substances to the point where we are no longer able to choose not to use them. As public perception has shifted, we have come to see drug and alcohol addiction as a disorder or disease rather than a choice. 

Symptoms of substance abuse, dependence, and substance use disorder include:

  • Hazardous use of drugs or alcohol
  • Social or interpersonal problems due to use
  • Neglecting major roles to use a substance
  • Legal issues
  • Withdrawal from substance
  • Tolerance
  • Using more amounts for longer
  • Wanting to quit or control use but struggling to do so
  • Spending a significant amount of time using the substance
  • Physical or psychological problems related to substance use
  • Giving up activities to use

Substance Abuse Management and Coping Mechanisms

Treating substance use disorder or addiction is a difficult process. Addiction is a lifelong disease that can require long-term treatment and management. The U.S. National Library of Medicine outlines stages of drug use that can lead to addiction – experimental use, regular use, problem use, and addiction – and notes that young people often move through these stages faster.

If you are concerned about your drug or alcohol use, it's best to seek treatment as soon as you can to help prevent becoming more heavily dependent. It's also important to seek professional help to make sure you can quit safely. Withdrawal symptoms from some substances can be dangerous or even deadly.

Treatment methods for substance use disorder include detoxification, counseling, medication, treating other mental health issues like depression and anxiety, and long-term care or follow-up. Behavioral therapy is the most common treatment for drug and alcohol abuse and is especially critical for people with co-occurring mental illnesses. In some cases, inpatient treatment such as drug or alcohol rehabilitation may be necessary. 

There are also alternatives to in-patient rehabilitation. You can go to a facility to safely detox, or use outpatient services where you receive treatment weekly or a few times per week rather than staying in a facility. Students should contact their school's counseling center to work with a counselor, set up a treatment plan, or get connected with other services.

Quitting drugs or alcohol can be extremely difficult. These coping mechanisms and strategies can help you succeed:

Reach out to your support system. Friends and family, counselors, a sponsor, and other members of your community will be instrumental in helping you recover.

Join a support group. Many recovered addicts find great support through Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other support groups.

Learn new ways to handle stress. Getting outside, doing something active, meditating, doing yoga, making art, talking it out with a friend, and other stress relievers will help you learn to cope without substances.

Surround yourself with sober people. Building a new community with people who aren't doing drugs or drinking will alleviate some of the stress and help make you feel supported.

Avoid bars, parties, or other triggering situations. Quitting is hard enough already, and being around substances or people who use them won't help. This will make it easier to avoid the temptation to use drugs or drink.

Get involved in something that makes you feel good. Whether it's volunteering, joining a book club, going to the gym, or getting involved in a faith-based community, getting involved and active with other people will make you feel good and help you build new habits.

Hotlines and Other Resources

Hotlines

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP for treatment referral information available 24 hours a day

Online Resources

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders involve a complex relationship between eating behaviors, thoughts, and emotions, and can have serious negative effects on mental and physical health. Eating disorders are serious psychiatric conditions that usually develop in teenage years and young adulthood.

About 5% of college students report being diagnosed with an eating disorder, and 4% say eating disorders interfered with school, according to the ACHA.

Although there are many different kinds of eating disorders, the three most widely recognized and common ones are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Other disordered eating conditions include Pica, or the consumption of items that are not food, and Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), where people lose interest in eating food at all or cut out food based on texture, appearance, color, or smell.

Eating disorders can develop in response to extreme stress or trauma, and sometimes the stress of starting college can coincide with other mental health issues and result in the development of disordered eating. 

Many people use food and exercise as a source of control when they feel as if they don't have control over other aspects of their life. According to the Child Mind Institute, the stress school on top of navigating a new social landscape can trigger an eating disorder, especially for people who are already concerned about their body image or who are highly anxious.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of an Eating Disorder?

Symptoms of eating disorders can be emotional, behavioral, or physical. People who have an eating disorder may show some signs but not others. One of the most common myths about eating disorders is that if someone isn't visibly underweight, they do not suffer from a true disorder. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, most people with an eating disorder aren't underweight, and many people who have them actually gain weight. All types of eating disorders can have lifelong impacts on different aspects of physical and mental health.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa typically occurs when someone thinks they are overweight despite being underweight. It's characterized by weight loss and restricting food intake to control weight. Anorexia nervosa is the deadliest psychiatric disorder, claiming the lives of 10% of people who suffer from it. 

The nature of this mental health condition means self-diagnosis is extremely difficult. People who have anorexia nervosa usually have a distorted view of themselves and may struggle to recognize the effects of their condition. It's important to note that people who are not underweight can still have anorexia. Atypical anorexia affects people who are not underweight but meet other criteria for diagnosis.Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Extremely restricted eating
  • Focus on weight, food, calories, fat grams, and dieting
  • Refusing to eat certain foods or entire food groups (e.g., no fat, no carbohydrates, etc.)
  • Food rituals, which can include eating foods in certain orders, very small bites of food, or burning food to make it taste bad, and experiencing anxiety if the ritual isn't followed
  • Avoiding mealtimes or situations involving food
  • Excessive exercise routine with a focus on burning off calories consumed
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Physical effects of anorexia include dramatic weight loss, being underweight, feeling cold, constipation, fatigue, stomach cramps, acid reflux, sleep problems, fainting or dizziness, anemia, slow heart rate, thinning hair, muscle weakness, and irregular periods or not getting a period at all
Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia is typically characterized by cycles of binging and purging. Binge eating means consuming significantly large amounts of food in a short period of time, coupled with feeling out of control over your eating during this time period. People who suffer from bulimia will engage in potentially harmful ways of preventing themselves from gaining weight. This often includes self-induced vomiting, fasting, or using laxatives. It can also involve other medications or excessive exercise. 

Many of the symptoms of anorexia apply to bulimia as well. Other signs and symptoms include stealing and hoarding food in strange places, excessively drinking water or other zero-calorie drinks, evidence of binge eating (empty wrappers and containers or large amounts of food disappearing at once), and evidence of purging (going to the bathroom after meals, signs of vomiting, and laxative or diuretic packaging). 

Unlike anorexia, most people who have bulimia are in a normal weight range or overweight. Physical impacts of bulimia can include weight gain or loss, stomach cramps, acid reflux, constipation, anemia, low thyroid or hormone levels, dizziness and fainting, sleep problems, cuts and calluses across the top of the finger joints from vomiting, dental problems, hair thinning, dry skin, and damage to the throat or esophagus.

Treatment Options and Support for Recover

It can be extremely difficult for people who suffer from eating disorders to recognize when it's time to ask for help. It can also be a difficult and scary process to work on recovery. Seeking treatment is the best thing you can do to help yourself recover from an eating disorder, and there are many different methods of treatment. 

Because eating disorders have such significant impacts on different parts of the body, it's also important to have a medical exam to determine if any other medical issues need to be addressed.

Support for recovery and treatment can include friends and family, a therapist or counselor, a treatment facility, a doctor, a nutritionist or dietitian, and support groups. The first step in getting treatment is reaching out to someone for help. Seeking counseling or behavioral health services from your school or from an off-campus clinic are both good options.

For many college students with eating disorders, outpatient services may be the best treatment option. You'll work with a team of health professionals such as a therapist and dietitian or nutritionist a few times a week to overcome the mental and physical aspects of your disorder.

For more serious cases, inpatient care may be necessary. These are residential facilities where you stay for a period of time and receive medical supervision in addition to structured therapeutic services.

Hospitalization is also an option for those who are in physical danger as a result of disordered eating. Some people may need to become medically stabilized and receive intensive treatment before going to an inpatient facility or using outpatient services.

Counseling services are key in recovering from an eating disorder because they help you rebuild a positive relationship with food while addressing other mental health issues that can lead to unhealthy eating habits.

Common types of therapy used to help people who have eating disorders include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which helps people replace harmful behaviors and thought patterns with new ways of thinking and responding; Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT), which involves meal planning and dietary education; Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which focuses on developing new coping mechanisms in response to stress and painful emotions; and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which helps people better understand their mental illness and develop a healthier relationship with their emotional experience.

Support Services and Resources for Recovery

The National Eating Disorders Association: Offers support resources, a database of treatment options, a volunteer-run helpline, online chat or text support options, and a screening tool to help you decide if you need treatment

Eating Disorder Hope: Provides a list of eating disorder treatment centers, online treatment options, a directory of therapists trained to work with patients who have eating disorders, and recovery tools and support

Recovery Record: An app that can help you stay on track during recovery, with meal log and meal plan options, a section on coping skills, and options to work with your clinician or treatment team

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD): Offers free peer mentorship services, support group options, a helpline, and a treatment directory

Eating Disorders Anonymous: Provides help in getting connected with a support group in your area

Finding Mental Health Support for College Students

College students struggling with their mental health have many resources available to them, and there is no shame in asking for help. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, 20% of American adults experience mental illness, and less than half of them receive treatment in a given year. The stigma surrounding mental health causes many people not to seek help because they are ashamed, embarrassed, afraid, or think they can handle things on their own.

It can be hard to tell if what you're going through is just part of normal life or if it's indicative of a bigger problem. Either way, there are resources available to help you. Counseling and other services can help get you through a tough time and give you lifelong skills to help you navigate difficult times in the future.

Mental Health Resources for College Students

Most campuses offer mental health services either through a counseling center or the health clinic. If there are no services on campus, your clinic can refer you somewhere nearby. Many of these services are low-cost or free, making it a good option for students who don't have health insurance.

If you do have insurance, call your health insurance provider to find out what services are covered, how much your copay will be, and how to find counseling covered by your insurance.

Students who use campus mental health services may struggle to continue counseling during breaks when they are away from school. Luckily, the growth of telehealth services during COVID-19 has made it easier to access virtual care. Check with your counselor to see if they offer telehealth services or therapy sessions by phone.

If not, you may benefit from connecting with a text therapy service or apps like BetterHelp or Talkspace while on break. Verywell Mind offers a list of text therapy services to compare costs and other considerations.

Free and Low-Cost Mental Health Services for College Students

If you can't afford to go to therapy, there are some lower-cost or free options available. Consider joining a support group or other student organization, such as NAMI on Campus clubs or Active Minds chapters. There may also be a women's or men's group, students of color support groups, an LGBTQ support group, or other clubs on campus where you'll find people who share your experience. Text therapy may also be a more affordable alternative for those without health insurance.

Students with diagnosed mental health problems may also qualify for accommodations through the Disability Services Office, including extended times for taking tests and turning in assignments, reducing course loads, and tutoring or mentoring services. If you're struggling to keep up in school due to anxiety, depression, or another issue, a leave of absence may be an option for you. The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides detailed information on how to ask for these accommodations.

Mental Health Resources for Online Students

One benefit of being an online student is that it can make it easier to manage mental health issues from home. Many online schools provide virtual counseling services to support students, which means your care won't be interrupted during a school break.

Enrolling in asynchronous online classes also means you can get your work done when you have the ability to do so, rather than being held to a class schedule. This can make it easier to manage your studies and other responsibilities on top of any mental health problems.

However, some people may struggle without face-to-face interaction or a set class schedule, which could actually make mental health issues worse. If you feel that keeping to a set schedule would benefit you, synchronous online classes could help you stay on track.

How to Find Mental Health Services as an Online Student

For online students, seeking out services through your school's online counseling center is the first step. Find out what virtual services are available. Some schools offer free or low-cost options, but there may be a limit on how many appointments each student is offered. If this is the case, work with your counselor to find out what else is available.

Open Path Collective is a great resource for low-cost counseling. The site charges a $59 lifetime membership fee and connects you with therapists who offer virtual and in-person counseling for $30 to $60 per session. BetterHelp is another virtual therapy option that costs $60 to $80 per week.

Online students who struggle with mental health also may benefit from finding counseling services in their area. For some people, the online setting can be isolating, which can contribute to or worsen symptoms. Seeking counseling in your area can help boost your mood if you need a face-to-face connection.

Mental Health Tips for Students

All students feel overwhelmed or stressed at some point. However, without using healthy coping mechanisms to address high stress levels, they can develop into a more significant problem. "Stress, perfectionism, test anxiety, that overall feeling of being overwhelmed – you're going to find that most of us have that," said Eileen Bowen, Director of Counseling at Inside Health Institute. "Depending on how we manage it, it can lead to worse things or better things."

As a student, how do I know when I need more support for my mental health?

Eileen Bowen recommends students check in with themselves to see how much of their day they spend struggling with anxiety, depression, worried thoughts, or other negative feelings. Mood tracking apps can give you an overview of how your emotions change over time and what might be influencing your mood. If overwhelming depression, anxiety, or another issue is causing you difficulties more often than not, it may be time to look for extra support.

Mental health check-in questions for students:

  • How much time am I spending worrying? How has that changed over time?
  • How many days out of the week do I feel depressed, anxious, or sad?
  • How hard is it for me to do my day-to-day activities?
  • Is my mental health causing me to do worse in school?
  • What am I using to cope with my mental health issues?
  • Are those coping strategies healthy?

Mental Health Toolkit for College Students

If you struggle with mental health issues, use these strategies and coping mechanisms to deal with stress and stop a crisis before it happens.

Get to Know Your Professors

College students frequently struggle with feeling isolated and lonely, Eileen Bowen said. It's hard to feel connected to classmates and your professor, whether in an online setting or in a crowded lecture hall. 

Scheduling some time to talk with your professor early on can also help you get a read on their expectations, which works to dispel some of those feelings of doubt or uncertainty that often come up later during the quarter. This is especially important for students with mental health issues. Opening up that dialogue will make it easier to come to your professor later if your symptoms worsen and you need extra support.

Separate Feelings and Facts

Many students are very hard on themselves, and it's easy to get consumed by negative thoughts or emotions over small-scale issues. If you can't stop ruminating on something, take a step back and ask yourself what the reality of the situation is, Eileen Bowen said. More often than not, what feels real may not always be real.

If you're upset about a B+ on a test, ask yourself, what is the fact? "The fact is, that's a pretty good grade," Eileen Bowen said.

Even when you didn't get a good grade, identifying the worst-case scenario and recognizing you can handle it could help ground you. "What's the worst that could happen? Do I have to take the class over again?" Eileen Bowen said. "We sometimes feel like the rug is pulled out from under us, but we also have the skills [to handle a situation]."

Screen for Positives

One common aspect of depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges is a focus on negative thoughts over positive ones.

"We as human beings often screen for negatives rather than screening for positives, and if you screen for something, you will find it," Eileen Bowen says. 

This is easier said than done, but when we repeat a thought process over and over again, our brain remembers it. Positive thinking alone won't cure depression or anxiety, but slowly retraining your brain to develop new thought patterns is a valuable skill to help combat the symptoms of mental health problems. Some exercises to practice positive thinking include doing affirmations, writing a daily gratitude list, or celebrating even the smallest victories.

Ask for Help

"I want students to know it's okay to ask for help," Eileen Bowen said. Mental health issues are very normal, and reaching out for support is also normal. Having a plan for who to talk with when you start to feel overwhelmed will make it easier to do so in the moment. That could be close friends, family, a counselor, or someone else.

Have a Crisis Plan

Eileen Bowen recommends that every student create a crisis plan, whether or not they think they'll need it. Crisis plans are frequently used in CBT and other talk therapies, and usually include warning signs and personal triggers that help you know when you need extra support, and a list of people to call and actions to take that help make you feel better. They act as a safety net when mental health challenges crop up and can be a good indicator of where you're at emotionally.

Using your crisis plan can help you figure out when it's time to seek additional support, like talking with a counselor or seeking other mental health services. A crisis plan might also give you some peace of mind when you're feeling overwhelmed. It provides a strategic framework for you to check in with yourself and gives you some easy, actionable items you can do to start feeling better.

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